After obtaining a PhD in computer graphics in Grenoble, France, Desbrun joined Caltech as a postdoctoral fellow in 1998. He joined the CS department at the University of Southern California as an Assistant Professor in January 2000, where he remained four years in charge of the GRAIL lab. He then became an Associate Professor at Caltech in the CS department in 2003, where he started the Applied Geometry lab and was awarded the ACM SIGGRAPH New Researcher award. He took on administrative duties after he became a full professor, becoming the founding chair of the Computing + Mathematical Sciences department and the director of the Information Science and Technology initiative from 2009 to 2015. More recently, he received an International Chair from France's Inria, and has been the Technical Papers Chair for the ACM SIGGRAPH 2018 conference.